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    Heart Failure and the Echocardiogram

    An echocardiogram (often called an "echo") is a graphic outline of your heart's movement. During this test, high-frequency sound waves, called ultrasound, provide pictures of your heart's valves and chambers. This allows your doctor to see the pumping action of the heart.

    Echo is often combined with tests called Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to check the blood flow through the heart's valves.

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    Why Do I Need an Echocardiogram?

    Your doctor may order an echo to:

    • Check the overall health of your heart
    • See if you have heart disease, including heart failure
    • Follow the progress of heart disease
    • See how well your heart treatment is working

    What Are the Types of Echocardiograms?

    The types of echoes include:

    Transthoracic: This is the standard echo. It’s a painless test similar to an X-ray, but without radiation. Ultrasound waves are bounced off the heart to make images and sounds that can help your doctor judge your heart's health.

    Transesophageal: A device called a transducer is inserted down your throat into your esophagus (the swallowing tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.) Since the esophagus is close to the heart, clear images of the heart can be gotten without messing with the lungs and chest.

    Stress: This is done while you exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. This test can show the motion of the hearts walls and the heart’s pumping action when it’s stressed. It can show a lack of blood flow that isn't always seen on other heart tests. The echo is performed just before and after the exercise.

    Dobutamine or adenosine stress: This is another form of stress echo. In this one, instead of exercising to stress the heart, you’re giving a drug that stimulates the heart and makes it "think" it is exercising. It’s used when you can’t use a treadmill or stationary bike. It shows how well your heart tolerates activity. It can also show your odds of having coronary artery disease, and it can tell the effectiveness of your cardiac treatment plan.

    Intravascular ultrasound. During this procedure, the transducer is threaded into the heart's blood vessels via a catheter in the groin. It is often used to provide detailed information about blockage inside the blood vessels.

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